If you want a book that packs a punch, you’ve got one this week. You probably already know that as we started it Friday. James is clear, concise, and calls us out for a number of our greatest foibles.
Do you struggle with controlling your words? Do you speak out in anger? Do you gossip? James has an answer for that.
Do you ever feel like you’re doing a lot of good things but still feel distant from God? Do you wonder why your “good works” aren’t getting more recognition? James has an answer for that.
If you want to know how to live faithfully while keeping the main things the main things, James is perfect for you. Enjoy!
We spend more time in Ezekiel and Hebrews this week.
Note that Ezekiel doles out a handful of warnings to various people groups, including the Israelites, of what is about to happen to them. Each of the punishments coming is due to that group’s sin, but regardless, it’s not going to be pretty.
Make a special note of a few things in Hebrews as well. In chapter 11, we encounter the “Hall of Faith” and then in chapter 12 we hear about a “cloud of witnesses”. Pay special attention to both of these. In the “Hall of Faith”, acts of faithfulness and trust are counted to people as righteousness. This isn’t a means of earning salvation, but is an opportunity to trust and know God more fully.
The cloud of witnesses is also something we should think about. Our cloud has not changed, only expanded. We can run faithfully towards Christ because so many have before us and because more and more people are living faithfully each day. Who is someone in your cloud?
Only 8 weeks to go to complete our Year of the Bible! Pretty incredible, eh?
This week, we have a bit of a cornucopia of readings. We’ll spend time in Philemon, Hebrews, Lamentations, and Ezekiel, as well as the usual suspects Proverbs and Psalms.
Something you might want to note this week is the connection and resolution between the Old and New Testaments. Both Lamentations and the prophet Ezekiel are longing for redemption and connection with God. They’re experiencing destruction and separation due to sin. But then we read Hebrews, and other portions of the New Testament and we see that the redemption those in the Old Testament longed for has been realized through Jesus.
Sometimes it is hard to read the prophets and other portions of the Old Testament because the people are being punished and are crying out. But the blessing of reading both the Old and New Testaments at the same time is we immediately get to see God’s answer. We have Christ.
We are still hanging out in Jeremiah but will finish it up at the end of this week. Jeremiah is, in some ways, similar to Isaiah. Jeremiah was a prophet who initially fought his calling. He was called to preach destruction and eventual restoration to the Israelites. And he faced opposition as he pursued faithfulness.
One thing to pay close attention to as we read through the prophets is: there is nothing God can’t restore us from. We can so easily get caught up in our pasts and focus on how unworthy we are of God’s grace and redemption. I’ve even heard people say, and mean, that they would get struck by lightening upon entering a church.
The prophets make it abundantly clear, and open the door for Jesus to make it even clearer, that no one is irredeemable.
This week, as you read Jeremiah, hear God’s voice calling you as he explains how he will draw the Israelites out of exile and back to himself.
Can you believe it? We only have 10 weeks left of our One Year Bible readings!! We are so close!
This week, we shift gears from our letters from Paul to various churches to letters from Paul to an individual. Paul ministered to a lot of people, but one of his biggest investments was in a young man named Timothy. Timothy was a protégé of Paul’s and was often used as a stand in for Paul. If Paul couldn’t make the trip, Timothy was sent.
But how does that happen? Where does it start?
Paul used the discipleship model he spelled out in 1 Corinthians, “follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” He let Timothy watch him do ministry and included him on anything and everything he could. Timothy learned by watching.
Who is your Timothy?
This week we have a bit of a dichotomy in our reading. Paul praises the Thessalonians for their faithfulness to Christ. Jeremiah preaches destruction to the Israelites for their lack of faithfulness.
One major point for why the Thessalonians were faithful and the ancient Israelites were unfaithful is attached to their willingness (or lack there of) to endure difficulties for their faith.
Over and over Paul praises the Thessalonians for enduring persecution for their faith and their diligence in sharing the gospel. On the other side, Jeremiah explains that the Israelites continually seek out idols and, when given the opportunity, turn towards the sinful practices of other nations.
What do we tend to fall back on when times are tough? Faithfulness or anything else?
This week, in our reading, we have an interesting juxtaposition as we finish Isaiah and begin Jeremiah. Jeremiah, who like Isaiah, at first explains the reasons he couldn’t possibly accept his calling, eventually becomes an effective prophet.
As we begin Jeremiah, we once again see God calling his people out for their sins. Like Isaiah, Jeremiah accuses God’s people of idolatry and unfaithfulness. Punishment, specifically exile, is imminent.
The juxtaposition comes in our also reading the end of Isaiah this week. The end of Isaiah explains God’s restoration of the Israelites back to him. When that happens, they will have received their punishment and God will bring them back to himself.
This contrast between punishment and restoration is important for us to recognize. Just like children only go to timeout for an appropriate period of time and like you’re only frozen in Freeze Tag until someone unfreezes you, exile is only for a time. Ultimately, all our sufferings and punishments are temporary and restoration to God is the goal for all of us.
Let’s talk about sin, shall we? That is a major theme this week in all facets of our reading, and, let’s be honest, it’s a major theme throughout Scripture.
Sin is anything we do that separates us from God.
Two major sin issues we’ll read about this week are hidden or secret sin and idolatry. Here’s why these two are particularly dangerous:
- If your sin is hidden, no one around you can even begin to hold you accountable, help you out of it, or care for you in the aftermath. This is why addicts say the first step is admitting you have a problem. Until then, your sin pattern will simply fester and grow.
- Idolatry is the practice of worshipping anything other than God. Our things can be our idols. Our success can be our idol. Even our kids can be our idols. Here’s why this is dangerous: as God explains in Isaiah, this puts something else in the place that only God is capable of filling. Many of these things we can create ourselves – what’s the point of worshipping something you can create yourself? It has no more power or capability than you! And no offense, but you’re not worthy of worship either.
No one likes to talk about sin, but in order to remain faithful, we have no choice.
Yep, still in Isaiah. Settle in. We’ll be here for a while.
But, in the New Testament, in case you need a little reprieve from all the prophecies, we’ll look at two of Paul’s epistles (fancy word for letters – use it at parties – it will make you sound smart and holy). This week we read Galatians and Ephesians.
As you begin Ephesians, read it with this in mind: Paul was in prison when he wrote it. Even in the opening verses, as Paul exclaims, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:3). His joy and faith are evident.
Though I hope to never be imprisoned for my faith, I hope my joy and eagerness to share Christ are comparable to that of Paul.
How do you respond when God calls you? You may think, “Umm…I’m not sure He has”.
In this week’s reading, we read Isaiah’s call, his immediate response, and then his ultimate response. Isaiah is called to be God’s prophet and, specifically, to tell his own people that God will destroy them and send them into exile if they don’t shape up and repent.
Like many others called in Scripture, Isaiah offers the response, “Here I am”, offering himself as willing to follow God. Also like many others, he then offers an excuse of why he cannot do what God is calling him to.
I, too, am an excuse maker. Are you? Do you continually think up reasons why God’s plan for you isn’t the right one? Are you always able to come up with reasons why you can’t serve, commit fully to God, tithe, or whatever else he’s calling you to?
This week, and in the weeks to come, we can also learn from Isaiah what it looks like to jump onboard God’s plan full steam ahead. Read on. It’s worth it.